Journalist Dhirendra Jha’s new book, Shadow Armies, is a timely primer on the ancillary organisations that operate on the margins of Hindutva to help achieve the stated goal of the RSS to turn India into a ‘Hindu rashtra’. It is a political goal, whatever the RSS’s claims to being a cultural organisation that is above politics. In his introduction, Jha notes of the RSS and its subsidiary, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, that “[e]xcept for contesting elections they do almost everything a political party would do: mobilise masses, develop issues for political polarisation, and play a role in identifying electoral candidates and managing booth-level campaigns.”
On the phone, Jha emphasises that this strategy is anti-democratic, that to behave like a political party while hiding behind the fig leaf of culture is “not following the rules of the game”. Like a giant octopus, the RSS extends its tentacles into politics at every level, though the BJP is officially its sole political standard-bearer. In Shadow
Armies, Jha notes that the tactic used is “equivocation”. That the RSS and BJP disassociate themselves from the “dirty work” done by groups that share their ideology, dismissing it as the activities of the “fringe” while offering tacit support and political protection.
As Jha’s title suggests, this is work done at the behest of the RSS and BJP under the cover of darkness. But with the ascension of Yogi Adityanath to the post of UP chief minister, this so-called fringe now basks unabashedly in the sun, no longer content to do its bidding in the shadows. Adityanath is now a figure of such celebrity and prominence within the BJP, he is outshone only by Narendra Modi and, perhaps, Amit Shah.
In 2002, Adityanath, then an MP from the safe seat of Gorakhpur, where he was the head of the influential mutt, formed the Hindu Yuva Vahini to consolidate his hold over eastern UP. The HYV is one of the four groups analysed in Shadow Armies that are not officially affiliated to the RSS. The other four groups in the book, including the Bajrang Dal, are part of the Sangh Parivar. The distinction is only technical. They are united, as Jha shows, by their use of violence, intimidation and terror to further the RSS and BJP’s “Brahminical” agenda—a subversion and betrayal of the modern, plural India imagined in the Constitution.
LEGACY OF LAWLESSNESS A Hindu Yuva Vahini rally in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, on April 5